Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Better than a beach day.

I never pass up a beach day. The white sand and clear blue water is pretty much impossible for me to resist. Okay, for anyone to resist.

Over the past 2 years, the kids and I have celebrated our last party of the year on the coast... What better way to celebrate falling snow and Christmas joy than in the sun? It's a tradition that I've been dedicated to maintain, but this year the odds have been against us. The chaotic government system during our current election has created blocked roadways and a lack of staff. This caused the parents and I to re-think our beach field trip and postpone until January.
So that left me with one last school day to fill... Opening stockings, a frozen t-shirt relay and cheesecake leftovers from last night's party were all on the agenda, but we were still lacking 'something'.
Yesterday on the way up the hill, God gave me an idea.
Because I had already reserved a vehicle, we had freedom to go somewhere off campus, just not far... Not far, but drive worthy. I know only one place that fits the description: Our mountain neighbours. And beyond that, what better way to celebrate Jesus' birthday than to give?
So this morning the kids and I jumped into the white van and headed out to spread some Christmas cheer!
First stop was the house in Sourcematelas where the kids go to school. We arrived just after they finished their exams and invited them to join us in the van on the journey to their home.
Upon our arrival, we walked to the clearing of their homes and the kids gave presents they had picked out from their own belongings. We did a tour of the families' dwelling places and then we started the tent construction. Fortunately Teagan is very skilled in tent assembly and the rest of the kids jumped right in. The mountain family kids and I stood back and they went to work.
Now let me just say that they may not be my 'biological' kids, but they might as well have been. Sheer pride!
It was a wish come true for me to see all of my 'kids' together. I also think it's safe to say that it may not have been penciled in on the kids' Christmas lists, but I believe a wish came true for them too. Sweat instead of saltwater, dirt instead of sand, but a whole lot of smiles just the same. For the record, giving is win-win.

And that is why today was better than a beach day.

Friday, December 10, 2010

God with us.

The kids and I have been reading through the beginnings of the Gospels these past few mornings leading up to Christmas.
It's a story that I've listened to a hundred times before, but this morning the words in Matthew spoke directly to my heart.

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means "God with us". ~ Matthew 1:23

All-powerful, all-creating, all-controlling. The One who holds the oceans in His hand. The One who paints the sunset. The One who knows the intricacies of every living thing. The One who saved the world.
This unfathomable wonder, b
rought down to the earth.
Tangible. Human. Alive. With us.

He came to save us. But first he walked, talked, laughed and cried. He came to demonstrate his love not just by dying for us, but by living with us. Modeling love, compassion and peace. He didn't just preach into a megaphone, He actively reached out to us, showing us we were made for more. He held the children. He went outside the city walls and healed the lepers. He sat and listened to the heart cries of the oppressed.

In the midst of Christmas festivities happening this December, the heart of our world is still breaking. Everywhere you look people are searching for peace.
Some have given into loneliness. Some have lost all faith.
Insecurity and inadequacy trump trust and satisfaction. Every day I catch myself trying to 'fix' it. But how? Or rather, what exactly am I fixing? The list is never ending. We're longing for a cure for the pain or a rest from the wearisome track we're on. Each and every person strives for power or justice... or striving simply to be heard.

But the Bible promises that our God is WITH us. Assurance that we are seen. Assurance that we aren't alone. That means He hears us. He comforts us. He saves us.
His name alone, Immanuel, is the answer that every soul on this earth is looking for in the here and now. Just as he offered His presence to us in a humble stable that very first Christmas night, so His love permeates through the walls we put up, and saves each heart that is open to Him. The love He offers here and now is the best gift that could ever, has ever, and will ever be received.

What then shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? ~
Romans 8:31-32

May we all be reminded of the truth of these words this Christmas... Not only is God with us, He is FOR us. An assurance that can never be denied or declined. May the promise of His presence be evident to us not just today but until we see Him someday face to face.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Rat attack.

I've watched them with disgust in the shadows of the tin roof rafters after dark.
I've heard stories of how Haitians play soccer with them in the warehouse because they are the size of footballs.
I've seen traces of evidence they've left behind in the guesthouse pantry - Chewed ends of my favourite cereal boxes.
But never. Never, did I anticipate the events of last night.
Rat intrusion.

10:14pm - I hadn't been asleep long. I was awoken to Sarah whispering in panic that she had just witnessed a rat enter our bedroom. To be more specific, it was under my bed. She flicked on the light and I squinted in despair. How it got into our apartment was beyond our comprehension, but it wasn't the priority at the moment. The current crisis was that it was scampering around the edges of the room and dashing into the darkness of our back closet. We needed to get it out, at least that's what Sarah said.

10:17pm - All I wanted to do was lay my head back on the pillow and pretend it was a dream (blame it on the kickboxing), but Sarah insisted that we find a way to chase the rat back to wherever it belonged, just NOT behind the washing machine where it was currently hiding. Her and Ben were in full gear with mops and brooms and Sarah instructed me to put on my Keens. I obliged.

10:20pm - The three of us looked at each other not sure what to do next. I knew I was completely helpless in the situation and I made sure they knew it. After a quick pep talk from Sarah, Ben strapped on his headlamp and proclaimed 'I'M GOING IN!'. Sarah and I watched feverishly as he got on top of the washing machine and with the blunt end of the broom tried to scare the rat out of it's hiding. I think I was telling him to stab it, but everything is blurring together.

10:24pm - Ben's broom taunting was working. He told us to get ready for it, which meant me sinking farther back towards the safety of my bed. Sure enough, the rat shot out from the closet, through the path we had laid out for it, and back into the kitchen. I started jumping up and down in victory, but the task wasn't finished yet. Now Sarah was in play with her mop on guard. Her and Ben talked strategy. I made myself useful by building a barricade between the open doorway between the kitchen and bedroom so it couldn't go back to the closet. And then I stood on the safe side and watched.

10:30pm - Sarah opened the screen giving the rat a free getaway. We were almost there... The rat skittered this way and that under the cupboards, back towards the fridge and then under the pantry shelf. The broom and mop were flying.

10:33pm - The rat took one final dash out of the protection of the shadows and zipped right out of the front door. I let out a cheer and then remembered that my students were sleeping next door. Immediately we shut the screen and sealed the main wooden door tight. Where it ran to and what it did next didn't matter anymore. As long as it was on the outside looking in.

10:38pm - I made my way back to bed, adrenaline still pumping. I laid in silence thinking about the horrible outcome of what would have awaited us in the morning had we permitted that nasty creature to stay the night. Never in a million years would I have had the courage to smoke it out like my friends had, but how thankful I was to have them around.

Authors Note: Reliving all of the emotions, instructions and behaviours of last night was quite humourous for me to write... Certainly an 'only in Haiti' event to be remembered. I think my ability to write in 'comic relief' means the terror of the rat is wearing off a little, but I am letting this statement stand: Bring on the lizards and cockroaches, but here's hoping that we never, ever, EVER have to deal with anything like that again.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Something beautiful.

We're all searching for it in one way or another - Beauty that captivates us. Beauty that lasts. Beauty that somehow redeems the struggles we face.
Whether we find it in ourselves or in what we acquire or produce, we keep striving and searching, hoping and wishing for something beyond ourselves. Something beautiful.
This past (American) thanksgiving, I have been reminded of the beautiful things in my life. The friends that make me jump to my feet and dance. The prayers that are lifted up from afar. The memories that I am blessed to cherish. The amazing opportunities that unravel in surprising places. The love of a Saviour.

This same weekend, the elections happened. Headlines pop up on world news websites reporting of fraud and violence. The staff has been advised not to leave the mission property so we're relying on internet and the Haitian community around us to keep us in the loop. Apparently the polls were corrupted before they even began. In addition to the protests, fires, and rumored stoning, it's not exactly a good start to a new leader. It's hard to see the beauty.

Our little buddy Pierre was also hospitalized this weekend. High fever and lack of neurological response keeps him in Port-au-Prince while mommies take turns by his bedside. From being abandoned, to malnutrition and malaria, and now to symptoms that are yet to be diagnosed, this precious little life hangs in the balance. He is so innocent and so helpless. It's hard to see this bundle of giggles, white teeth smiles and shiny eyes suffer. It's hard to see the beauty.

And it's not just in Haiti, everyone has a story. It's easy for me to lose sight of the bigger picture and wish that more people would solely invest in Haiti and the desperation around me. But the truth is, there are millions of people and situations in our world that hold the same needs, the same pain. Check any news station and once again, our world is a mess. It's hard to see the beauty.

The words of this song have resonated in my heart over the past few weeks. Please take the time to listen. The song reminds me that there is beauty and there is hope beyond what we can tangibly see or understand. Even if the problem is too great, even if the destruction is irreparable, even if the trauma is impossible to heal, we are promised that there is something beautiful waiting. Whether in this life or the next, we can rest assured that our Father has won the ultimate battle. A victory that we can celebrate and rejoice over for eternity. May we continue to pursue something beautiful in this life, knowing that our ultimate promise of beauty awaits us forever.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Battle scars.

On September 10, 2008, I flew into Haiti for the first time. This also happened to be the day after the 3rd consecutive hurricane hit the island within a week, causing major flooding and mudslides injuring hundreds and destroying homes and crops. For weeks and months following the storms, the Mission of Hope staff were in rescue mode - housing a whole orphanage of children in our on-campus high school, running mobile clinics in local villages and distributing food and clothes to those who were displaced.
To this day, the bricks of two remaining walls of a home still remain on the side of the Cabaret river - a reminder of the midnight panic that came in the form of a mudslide to the local residents, chasing families from their beds and wiping out homes. I will never forget driving through the villages just days after landing in Haiti and seeing the flooded roads, piles of water logged garbage and homeless families. It was a terrible disaster - One that we are still scarred from.

Last January, which seems like only yesterday, the earthquake hit. In less than a minute, the country faced one of most devastating natural disasters in history. Hunched over and barefoot on the gravel road outside the guesthouse, my eyes beheld the magnitude of the impact as the dust cloud rose from the mountain of Port-au-Prince skyline. In the minutes, hours, days, weeks and months to follow, each of us here at the mission witnessed the heartbreak in the lives of our Haitian co-workers and friends. You've all seen the pictures - collapsed homes, mass graves, hundreds of amputees, tent cities and on and on.
It's been over 10 months since the quake, and each time I travel into the city I see more progress as wooden shacks are built by NGO's and roads are less cluttered as rubble is transported to the hillsides. As much as these small steps move toward a better tomorrow, evidence of brokenness still exists everywhere - reminding me that we've barely touched the tip of the iceberg. The presidential palace still cowers behind lavish iron fences - the central peak descended deepest into the rubble. Cement cracks are everywhere from homes, balcony accents, office buildings, highways and break walls. Sensations of aftershocks leave school kids injured from panicked exits and emotional scarring.
Each day at the Mission we press forward, each day we do our utmost to rebuild and heal and foster transformation in the lives of these broken people, but it takes it's toll. It's not easy witnessing this type of pain and desperation day after day when you know you'll be seeing it for years and years to come. Sometimes it's just hard to see the silver lining.

Within months of my arrival to Haiti the 3rd time around, Haiti was once again on the front lines of another hurricane. By the grace of God, our surrounding village area at the Mission did not receive the harsh storm conditions that the hurricane forecasters were calling for. Although parts of the island were flooded and tent city residents were forced to leave their humble dwellings, we can be thankful that it was no worse.
And yet as we let out our breath in relief, another disaster is taking shape. Or should I say, it's here. Cholera.
What began as a rapid outbreak hours from us has been gradually trickling through villages and popping up through various locations around the island. Medical groups have tried their best to treat and contain the illness, but it continues to spread, and the lack of hygiene in tent cities and marketplaces offers little proactivity and prevention. For the past few weeks, our church, clinic and schools have reinforced proper preventative strategies to the locals in our area. Still, the awareness in the country hasn't been able to stop the rising death toll. Yesterday, a team from our mission travelled to a cholera treatment centre about 20 minutes away. What Sarah explained to me upon her return was so sad and so desperate. The sickness is fast-acting and the patients are extremely needy. Medical personnel are risking their own health to aid others, but there are barely enough of them to treat the masses that arrive for treatment each day.

In the midst of all of this, there is a presidential election taking place next Sunday - the 28th of this month. No matter where you go outside the mission gates you see graffiti, posters on walls and cars, as well as banners and billboards promoting the candidates. It's been like this since the summer. We are now less than two weeks away and it's reaching to new heights. Reports of violence are surfacing in the city streets. Fires, gunshots, violent outbreaks are all in the headlines. Our staff exchange daily news reports and are continually aware of the growing chaos. We all agree that this is a country in need of a new start. The people are in need of a leader who can bring unity and healing. Haiti deserves a fresh slate, and yet it seems like with every step forward we take two steps back.

Somehow, despite the brokenness and the needs of the people in the country, I am reminded each day that hope the Haitian people hold onto is real. To be honest, I don't get it.
The people of Haiti are more resilient than any other country or group I know. They just don't give up. Pondering all of the destruction that I wrote about above, I can't imagine enduring even one of them and remain standing. These people have witnessed so much pain and yet they press on, celebrating the victory of their freedom as a country, and believing in a better tomorrow, all the while celebrating the joy of heaven that will someday be theirs forever.
It's lived out through the women that arrive on the mission bus week after week with amputated limbs, coming to work at 3 cords. Despite their disability, they believe that they can make a living and support their families. That takes courage.
It's in the high school students that return to school week after week despite losing family members and friends just months before. They believe that they can graduate and make something of themselves. They haven't forgotten their dreams or let their pain excuse them from pressing on. That takes determination.
It's in the Haitian staff, from the doctors and drivers to the cooks and security guards. Still suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression, they faithfully fulfill their roles at the mission believing that their work is making a positive impact on the people around them. They don't quit or neglect their jobs in reaching out to others. That takes faith.

I don't know what is to come next for Haiti. Honestly, I don't like to think about it for fear of the worst. Part of me wants to to brace myself for another tragedy, but because of the Haitian's around me, part of me is inspired to hang onto hope that morning will come. Please pray along with me that the Lord would be evidently present in Haiti in the days, weeks, months and years to come. That the wounds and diseases would cease and band aid remedies would be cast aside. Pray that the cholera epidemic would be miraculously contained and cured. That God's peace would cover His people. Pray for the new leader of this country. Pray that they will have discernment and a heart for the poorest of the poor. Finally, pray for those who have lost hope, that it may be rekindled and fanned into a flame that lights the way for tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Visit To Haiti: A Guest Blog from Darcie...

On my way to the airport in Toronto last week I told my parents that Haiti would probably be the last place I would go if I didn’t have a personal connection to the country. I never dreamed of traveling here, never had a pull towards the country and never really gave it a thought.

About 3 years ago my dear friend Diana started seriously considering and praying about the opportunity to come to Haiti to teach missionary children at the Mission of Hope. She felt led to take on the challenge and now this is her third year living and teaching on this small island.

Over the past 3 years I’ve watched Diana grow in her faith and in the kind of person that she is. I’ve watched her do things that I never thought she could do. I’ve listened to her talk and write about her students, about the Haitian people, about the living conditions, the food, the beauty of this country, the insects and most aspects of life here. When she would come home at Christmas or for summer break she would tell me stories about Haiti and usually end by saying “oh I want you to meet these people, I wish you could see it”. There were times when I really wanted to go but the timing never seemed right and money was always a factor. I often wondered in the back of my mind if I would ever really go. In September, shortly after another tearful goodbye to Diana as she went back to the country that she loves, my Mom encouraged me that I needed to go to Haiti for a little while and see it and spend some time with Diana. I decided that I agreed. So I made plans to come for 12 days in November.

I came to Haiti to visit my dear friend. What I never expected was to have my heart broken. I never expected that I would actually like it here. I never expected to have thoughts and feelings so foreign to me that I don’t know what to do with them.

Yesterday I went to an orphanage in a nearby village. There were lots of children, all different ages and they wanted to be held, and hugged, and played with and SEEN.

They wanted someone to SEE them.

And I sat there holding a few of them and I looked around, looked at their faces and I just wanted to take them all home. And I can’t even write words that can express what I felt. I don’t know what it’s like to not have a mommy or daddy to take care of me, I don’t know what it’s like to be thirsty and hungry. I don’t know what it’s like to not go to school and learn. I don’t know what it’s like not to have clean clothes or a proper bed.

A few days ago I traveled to visit two families that live in tents in the mountains. Diana brought them shoes that were sent from Canada. The joy that they had when they tried on those shoes was the best! The kids were the sweetest and they latched onto me and held my hand and I could have stayed there all day. I watched them interact with Diana; they know her face, her voice, her smile. She visits them each week and she cares for them and there is a deep part of my soul that wishes that I could know them the way she does, the kind of knowing that comes from being present, not just here today, gone tomorrow.

Last night Diana took me down to the Church of Hope for one of their evening worship services. I watched and listened to the people praise. I’ve never seen worship like this, so desperate for God’s presence, for Him to change the country, for Him to provide, so thankful for His love. I saw a demon being cast out of a woman; she could not even say the name of Jesus before. His name is powerful!

With God's help and direction, The Mission of Hope is changing this country.

I find that interwoven amongst the incredible needs in Haiti is much beauty and laughter and joy and possibility.

So I find myself in a new place, one I’ve never been before. And I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m not sure how to come back home to Canada knowing all of these things in my heart and having seen them with my own eyes, in real life, not just on the television or computer screen. They aren't just distant faces in some distant place, they are beautiful people with names and eyes that stare into your soul, and they have sat on my lap and held my hand and touched my skin because it's a weird colour. And having been here I see that I cannot leave without being deeply effected and I don't yet know what it means for me but I know that I'm thankful.

I'm thankful that for some reason, deciding to stop putting it off, I came. I'm thankful that I have love to give and arms strong enough to hold these little ones. I'm thankful that God loves me despite my ignorance and despite all the attention I give to "petty problems". I'm thankful that God works here and there and in the theres I know nothing of. And I'm thankful to have known the best kind of love; the kind that is behind me, in front of me, beside me, above me, below me and inside my heart.

Thank you Jesus for your love that is available to every person no matter where they're from or what they've done.

And so if you're like I was and you never really thought about going somewhere like Haiti or you're putting it off for some other time....



If you have love, give it.

And I can tell you, now that I'm here, that you won't leave the same.

May you be inconvenienced with the thought and desire to go somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere that needs you and what you have to give, even if you go only for a short while, just go.

I am being reminded that the world is a big place and it's full of things that will break our hearts, things that we don't understand, and it's full of things that will make us laugh, things that fill us up with so much joy that we overflow.

And I think it would be a shame if we let this life pass us by without feeling it all.

Here's to living life being FULLY ALIVE,


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Nick of time.

I don't want to knock the 'Bass Pro Shop' camping tents, but I have witnessed first-hand that they are not fit for the intense sunlight, gale-force winds and nightly downpours of the typical Haitian climate. The catch is, these are the current tents available to us at the warehouse (courtesy of a post-earthquake shipment), so they are my only option to bring as a replacement for the mountain families' makeshift shelters that have already battled the elements for too long.
As Hurricane Tomas approached and the headlines began to speak about the severity of the storm, my mind could not stop reeling over the terrible experience this would be once again for my friends in the mountains. For the first time, I was afraid to even go and visit them because of the harsh reality of what destruction was to come. It was too hard for me to accept.
Mid-week I set up a meeting with Mr. Marc (our Haitian director at MOH) to discuss the possibility of them taking shelter somewhere on our mission. Liability and property issues were all at stake, but I didn't know what other options I had. When I reached the office, Mr. Marc was not around due to the million and one responsibilities he handles on a daily basis (He is a definite God-send to Mission of Hope!). But my hopes dropped significantly knowing that the chances of me meeting with him were slim, and the possibility of the families staying somewhere on our campus was even slimmer.
Shortly after this realization, I met with Robenson and together we trekked out to see the families. Despite the heaviness in my heart, I could not justify any more ignorance regardless of having a solution or not. I did the only thing I could do - prayed for hope.
As we made our way off the road and down the university path (which is currently under construction), my eyes drifted to the classrooms being built along the hill. Thinking out loud, I asked Robenson if he thought there was any way the families could resort to the shelter there during the weekend. His eyes perked up and he headed toward the gatekeepers shelter where he discussed the possibility with some of the people remaining on the grounds. Unfortunately for us, the 'boss man' of the university wasn't present so they could not speak for him, but they did give us a glimmer of hope saying that it could work if we managed to talk to the right person in time.
My anticipation built back up a bit knowing that we had somewhat of an option, however it was not even close to the response I gave when I heard what came out of Robenson's mouth next. He said 'You know Diana, if this doesn't work out, I am sure there is a room available in a cement home in Sourcematelas (the village next to the Mission), that we could rent for them'.
I stopped in my tracks. Here was an option that I didn't even know existed, but as soon as Robenson said it, I am convinced I heard an angel choir. It was our answer. Not only would it protect them during the upcoming weekend storms, but it could also become a more proper living space for them in the weeks of waiting before they receive a house of their own. After so much prayer and yearning for the Lord to intercede, He was answering us with provision and mercy in the nick of time.
Over the past 24 hours with the help of Robenson and a few other friends in Sourcematelas, it has been arranged for the families to take shelter in a secure cement home. It's currently 2:23pm here. The wind is picking up, clouds are darkening and the hurricane is predicted to hit this evening. I just got a call from Robenson saying that the key for the room is in his hand and he's taking it to the family now. By God's grace, they will have shelter tonight.
Thank you all for your prayers and may God be given all the glory for providing for these people.
I have a heart brimming with gratitude to the Lord, knowing that my friends are going to be so much better protected in the days and nights to come, however I still ache for the thousands of others who are still searching, still needing, still hopeful for the Lord to provide. Please join me in praying for all these desperate people. And like the many whispered prayers He is answering already, may His promise of protection and strength be supernaturally evident to those who need it most.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On the horizon...

Common makeshift tents like these can barely withstand a blustery evening breeze and thundershower. Here is a recent Haiti weather radar:

Currently we are receiving mixed messages - "Just a tropical depression" becomes a Level 3 Hurricane headline from day to day. The storm alert colour changes by the hour from red to orange to yellow and then back again. Friends in Port-au-Prince, LaCay, Titanyen, SourceMatelas, Simonette, Minotrie, Cabaret are all at high risk to the unknown. Once again, they find themselves on the frontlines of harsh elements and preparing for the worst.

Every time I look out towards the ocean my heart has a tendency to sink a little deeper. The cloud cover is thickening - and so is the burden for so many suffering people. For a country that has already suffered so greatly, it is difficult to swallow yet another disaster.

But beyond the forecast - beyond the storm radar - beyond the questions and the uncertainties, there is an Anchor that can be trusted far greater than any force on earth.

Once again, may we be made weak so we know the strength of the One who's strong.

Once again may our faith be tested and tried and true.

And may we be able to testify that words of Jesus - Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Up to speed.

It feels like it's been pedal to the metal these past couple of days. Lots of good things are happening while much needs to be lifted up in prayer... Here is a break down of a few current prayer needs and praises.

As you've read on the news, the Cholera outbreak has been on the frontline in Haiti as well as our minds. MOH clinic has sent out many supplies to St. Marc (where it was originally diagnosed), and our medical staff have prepared our ward for local patients. The good thing about Cholera is that it is very treatable and easy to recover from if you can get proper medical attention in time. The problem with Cholera is that it hits very severely and can cause dehydration to the point of death in a matter of hours. It is also very contagious in areas of poor hygiene. Praise the Lord that our hospital beds have not yet been swamped by the epidemic. Please keep praying for Haitian villages near and far that the disease will not spread any more and that clinics around the country will be able to treat cases appropriately. We are thankful for the continual flow of nurses and doctors who staff our clinic and the full time staff who provide organization and constancy as well as effective communication with other medical professionals in Haiti.

In other news, my students are back! The van der Mark family returned yesterday and I look forward to greeting a class size of 6 tomorrow morning! Noah will now have another fellow grade 6er (Grayden), Caleb will continue in grade 5 and blend along with the older boys in some subjects, Bridgely is going into grade 3, and Ana and Mina will be starting grade 2! I am anticipating a great year ahead! Please keep the van der Mark kids in your prayers as they transition back to life in Haiti, and pray that I can spark an enthusiasm into the hearts and minds of my kids throughout the year.

Speaking of school, Idelie has started teaching 6 of the mountain kids during the weekday mornings and it's going really well! I sat down with her on Monday after school and I am so thankful for her heart for the kids and the importance she is placing on not just educational standards but on their spiritual growth, and their health and well being. Especially with the current infections that are spreading, I was really concerned for the families who retrieve their water from the local water source. Idelie told me on Monday that she was teaching the kids about approriate hand washing methods and providing them with clean water to drink. Thank you for your continual prayers for Idelie and the children (Wala, Jean Bertan, Shaylyn, Marie Rose, Senson and Dida)! See below a more recent picture taken of the kids (all except for Senson - he was out in the garden with his dad). From bottom left - Peterson, Dida, Mikaielle, Shaylyn, Marie Rose - From top left - Wala and Jean Bertan.

Last but certainly not least: 3 cord production is off the hook! The women come in for a full day of sewing and braiding on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it is going awesome. After school, I make my way down to the 3 cords lab and absolutely love working and laughing with the women. After the day is done, I proudly display their handiwork in our tuck shop (see below). Just one problem: We can't seem to be making enough to keep our display table stocked... Only hours after I put the day's work on the table people are requesting more. The Lord is surely blessing this business and the ladies who come each week! In addition to the women's daily salary, I look forward to sharing more of the directions that we will be heading with the money we have raised soon!

PS - If you want one - you better speak up fast!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

That toothy grin.

Remember the slumber party I wrote about a couple weeks ago?
Baby Pierre wasn't exactly the 3rd roommate that I expected, but what did it matter? His shining eyes and toothy grin were more than enough to have Sarah and I hanging onto his every whim. Bottles filled with you name it, oversized sleepers strewn over furniture, and leftovers of mashed banana and pineapple were all evidence of our new favourite buddy.

It's been a while since I've updated you on the little guy so here you go...
As you know, he's been transferred a little bit more of a distance than our living room. He now resides in a playpen at the Hope House and taking after the other babies on campus, he's gradually putting on the pounds.

He was initially labelled with muscular dystrophy, but due to the lack of proper testing here in Haiti, it was not a definite call. Doctors have been monitoring his progression and behaviours over past weeks trying to reach a more definite diagnosis, and recently with his increased strength and motor movement they have disproved the first theory. Their recent conclusions lead more toward some neurological delays (hard to know how severe), and a possibility of cerebral palsy. There are still a lot of gray areas, but piece by piece we are finding where his deepest needs are and where to go from here. The importance is that he is breaking through limits and becoming more energetic every day.

A physical therapist met with Rachel and I a while back and gave us some good exercises to practice with him to encourage the range of motion in his legs and arms. He was very positive about the way Pierre was able to control his neck muscles, and said that with increased practice there is a good chance he could sit up on his own, and even develop his legs enough to hold himself up.
You may recall the post I wrote about baby Angelie when she arrived at the Hope House under a similar abandonment circumstance. Her jelly-like legs were written off by many, but just months later she is pulling herself up all on her own and taking baby steps while holding hands with a mommy. It's so exciting to watch the growth after such a hopeless beginning. Indeed, these babies have more resiliency than we accredit them for.

Like all the others before him, Pierre has got a chance. And as we've seen before, it's more than enough. Thank you for praying for Pierre. Pray for health and healing after months of malnutrition and neglect. Pray that the right doctors would see him and make the right diagnoses. Most of all, pray that the Lord would breathe His love and strength into this little life, and that Pierre would be a testimony of hope more and more everyday.

This weekend Sarah and I are anticipating another sleepover. We've received permission to have him up at our house for the night and we're counting down the days. Make way - there's a baby on the block!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Something to write home about.

Last October you may remember about me writing about 3 children that crossed my path on the mission road at dusk. Their desperate need mixed with hopeful eyes left me searching for answers as I climbed the hill that evening, wondering if I would ever see them again.
Little did I know that first encounter would bridge into what I am about to share with you today - To the glory of God, here is a 'year later' update.

I'll never forget my first trek into the mountains - where I stood at the top of the hill and looked down upon the shambled tent of a shelter where they lived. The way I recognized the barefoot children whom I had met on the pathway, and saw the condition that their parents and many siblings were living in. It left me overwhelmed and unknowing in where to begin, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't forget about what I had seen, nor remove the weight that hung heavy in my heart.

The goat path that was once so foreign to me has now become one of my favourite trails as I've found such joy in building relationships with the 2 families... Watching the babies take their first steps, enjoying watermelons from their farm fields, and learning from the way they testify true contentment and trust in the Lord for provision.
Not a day goes by that I don't think about this family, and I am so grateful for the friendship we share, as well as the partnership and support from so many of you in North America who have lifted up prayers, given financial support, and visited them in Haiti.

In my time home this past summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about future steps and ways that I can play a role in bringing hope to these beautiful people in the year ahead. I asked myself - What would be the best way to help these families break out of the cycle of poverty? The answer was confirmed time and time again: The children needed an education. If they could only go to school, they would have a chance at getting a job and providing for their families in the years to come.
Despite a few of the children attending schools in the nearby villages in past school terms, none of the education they have received has provided a foundation to build upon. In recent weeks, Robenson and I have done basic number recognition drills and alphabet songs, all of which the children have barely mastered without prompting. It would be generous for me to say that the 7 school-aged children (ages 6-14) are at a junior kindergarten level.
The ages of the children are a discouraging variable. Their small physical size led me to believe at first that they were much younger than they actually were. The oldest boy who I judged as a 9 year old is instead 14. The trend of a 5 year gap between the ages I assumed compared to actuality is true for all of the children.

Returning to Haiti this year, my priority was to enroll the children in the School of Hope.
The harsh reality was difficult to swallow - None of the kids were anywhere close to the grade level benchmarks where they should be based on their age. They would not be accepted into school with such a limited knowledge base.
I had no doubt to face plan B - Find a private teacher to work with them over the year, in hopes to catch them up to their levels and try to enroll them again next year.
But plan B scared me. How was I with such a limited creole vocabulary and awareness of Haitian education supposed to communicate the needs of these children and set up a school system with a possible teacher? I put the word out around the mission hoping that somebody would fit the position. A few friends of friends with teaching background emerged as prospects, but nothing substantiated, mostly because of my own hesitancy. The person I had in my mind needed to know the family, they had to genuinely care about each child and their needs, not just do it for the pay cheque each week. My job description surrounded someone with a real servant heart, endless patience with the children, and a concern for not just their educational progress, but also their physical and emotional well being.

Clearly, I wasn't just looking for an ordinary teacher.
These children needed someone to talk to them about the truth of the Bible. These children needed someone who could guide them in proper nutrition and health. Education, and ultimately the goal for the children to one day be integrated into their proper grade levels was important, but these other areas were just as much of a priority considering their background.
The days passed, School of Hope commenced, and nothing had developed. I was so discouraged, but I couldn't lower my standards. I put the word out for people to start praying. It became clear that only the Lord would be able to find this person and plop them in my lap.

It wasn't until last week when I was chatting over Skype with Sadrac, the interpreter who used to accompany in my mountain treks to visit the families last year, and I was sharing my frustrations. He understood the needs of the children and echoed the importance of having healthcare and Christian education integrated as a key theme into the numeracy and literacy curriculum. I asked him if he knew of ANYONE in his social circle who fit the criteria.
With that he said - well, my older sister used to teach kindergarten.
I almost fell out of my chair. I knew that this was the answer to our prayers.
Since that time, I have met with Idelie (which is also Robenson's sister) and Sadrac has communicated with her by phone about the unique description of the teacher we are looking for. On Wednesday I walked with her to the mountain families where she met the children, and we discussed more of the weekly routine for them, as well as curriculum needs.
Slowly but surely, it's coming together. There are still daily roadblocks that come along - curriculum books, school location, need for a chalkboard and benches, morning routine structure, but day by day the Lord provides a solution that I could have never found on my own.

Yesterday I met with Joan from the School of Hope, who is developing a new Christian education for Mission of Hope, and her encouragement and guidance to me was more valuable than I could ever express in words. She gave me great insight into the types of lessons to start out with and gave me another link to a mutual friend of ours (Jennifer) who has a Christian community health manual that Idelie could use. I am meeting with Jennifer on Monday afternoon to see how this can be incorporated in the weeks ahead. Once again, the Lord reminds me He's got it all figured out, I just have to keep trusting each step. I feel so grateful for the way He is affirming this path we're on, and people who are joining along the way.
In other news, the hope of building real homes for both families is also taking shape as housing equipment gets shipped in for reconstruction. I will do my best to keep an update on what future developments take place for these families in the future.

I'm learning step by step that an uphill climb isn't easy, but by God's grace He is paving a path for us as we keep the faith. Someday when we finally reach the summit, the view will be all the sweeter. All glory to His provision and faithfulness day by day.
Please keep these children and Idelie in your prayers as they begin school on Monday. Pray that Idelie will have a maintained passion for teaching, a love for the children, and fresh ideas for building trust with them day by day. Pray also for the children that they will have an enthusiasm for learning, and that they can easily retain the information they are taught. Pray that the relationships will continue to flourish and that each child will grow into the person God has created them to be.

Now all glory be to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us,
to accomplish infinitely more than we could ever ask or think.
~ Ephesians 3:20

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Orphans, Kingdoms.

I've been asking a lot of questions of myself lately.
Questions about how to balance the life of privilege that I have, with the life that I am seeing around me day by day.

Tent cities that collapse under wind and torrential downpours leaving hundreds without shelter.
10-year olds who can't say the first few letters of the alphabet, and parents who prompt them with the wrong answers.
Parents who have no other choice than to abandon their year-old babies at the clinic unknown to what will become of them, than to carry them home to poverty.
An earthquake that stole parents away from their daughters and sons, and daughters and sons away from their parents. Unfathomable loss.

How do I live my life with blessings that seep out around me everywhere when I am confronted with the harsh reality of these friends of mine?
The smile I wear on my face as I encounter these people who are suffering isn't real tonight.
I just don't know where the line between pouring out and being poured into is anymore.
The worst part about it is that I feel like I've earned this life - that I somehow deserve this comfort. And yet it's nothing, absolutely NOTHING but the grace of God that I'm not sleeping alone on a muddy floor under a frayed blue tarp of protection with an empty stomach.

I've been listening to a song lately that has echoed this struggle in my heart and mind, as well as offered a peace in truth about where to go from here.

In me, in you...
Loneliness. Desperation. Disease. Hunger. Thirst. Brokenness. Abandonment. Heartache.

In me, in you...
Beauty. Life. Joy. Laughter. Faith. Peace. Friendship. Harmony. Understanding. Hope.

I think I need to open up my box-like concept of us being either one or the other.
What may appear to be a division of wealth and poverty - kingdom and orphan, is instead a meshing. Where those in the kingdom suffer with doubt and discontentment and search for something greater, while the orphans thrive with child-like faith and love without bounds and resiliency.

The emotions in both categories have been each of one of our songs at one point or another.
Every life dips and climbs between heartache and celebration. In this world, there is sadness that pulls us down to the depths of despair and rejoicing that lifts up to the heights of heaven. From the cheer of a baby's first cry to the weeping of a goodbye that came too soon. There is a time for everything.

What I am wrestling with tonight is heartache and injustice that clouds over optimism. How can I bring a kingdom and everything that goes with it, into the lives of the friends who have lost it all?
But maybe my question needs to be rephrased to - Where is the kingdom in the lives of these people?

It says in 2 Timothy chapter 11:
If we die with Him, we will also live with Him.
If we endure, we will reign with Him.
If we deny Him, He also will deny us.
If we are unfaithful, He will still be faithful, because He cannot deny Himself.

The last line of this verse is such a promise to cling to.
A promise of God's character and sovereignty far beyond anything in the grasp of our control. When I see the pain around me and the questions flood in and my rationale fails by the wayside, and I just can't.
He is still faithful.
Not because He should be. But because He simply is.
Can that be enough?
It must be.

A few weeks ago I rewound a podcast to hear a line of truth repeated that has stuck with me ever since ~ The moment of despair is the moment of hope.

... And the song plays on....
We are wondering where the Wild Wind blows,
We are happy here cause the Wild Wind knows what we are,
Orphans, Kingdoms.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Give thanks.

I'm thankful for sticky floors.
Evidence of sugary ingredients that drip on my floor while making Haitian juice, or a favourite dessert which us staffers endearingly call 'log'.

I'm thankful for dusty roads and burning garbage piles.
Together the smoke particles collect in the sky and produce the most breathtaking of sunsets over the ocean.

I'm thankful for cold showers.
Who needs hot water when you can be instantly refreshed after a hot day?

I'm thankful for a broken inverter.
Outdoor hammocking outdoes an oscillating fan indoors any day.

I'm thankful for creole.
Even though my communication in this foreign language still fails me everyday, the broken conversations shared with other North Americans here at the mission makes me laugh harder than most things that humour me in english.

As I type, the storm clouds are rolling through and the internet has cut out multiple times. Yes, I'm even thankful for a lost wireless signal.
It allows me to take my eyes off the light screen and break it down on the balcony to hit singles with my roomie.

I'm thankful for thanksgiving in Haiti.
I may be faraway from crisp fall leaves, Oma's zwiebak, and the warm hugs of family, but thanksgiving still exists here by the poolside under the sun, and the bonus is that I get to celebrate it again with my American friends in a couple more weeks.

Happy Canadian thanksgiving to one and all!
Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His faithful love endures forever! ~ Psalm 107:1

Friday, October 1, 2010

3 cords.

A cord of 3 strands is not easily broken. ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12

You have read here before about the new ministry that is beginning at the prosthetics lab so I'll try to keep it short and sweet - even though I could go on for days!
My good friend Diana has been working full time at the Mission with prosthetists from all over the country who come to make new prosthetic legs and give rehabilitation to amputees (mostly victims from the earthquake). She has a huge passion for this ministry, and over time has developed some great relationships with the women who have come to get fitted for new legs. This is a very typical scene of her with the ladies!

All of these women lost their homes in the earthquake and are now living in large tent cities towards Port-au-Prince. In addition to the huge loss of family members and shelters, they have also lost any jobs they once had.
In recent weeks, Diana has been inspired to begin a work program for them where they can use their hands to make crafts which are then sold in the guesthouse of our mission for profit.
It's been 2 weeks since the program fully took off, and it is AWESOME. What a blessing it has been for me to join in with Diana and our friends, Christi and Abby, as well as these wonderful women! Please check out Diana's blog here to get more details (read the post titled - 3 cords is up and running)!
She named the program '3 cords' since our most popular product is a braid made from 3 strips of fabric that can be worn as a hair band wrap or belt.The other reason the name suited so perfectly is from the verse I wrote above from Ecclesiastes. 3 cords is not easily broken. During our time working with the ladies this week, Diana, Christi, Abby and I asked the women to share their stories, and we sat in amazement as they talked about the heartbreak of not only their experiences through the earthquake, but also the loss and struggle that they have lived throughout their lives in Haiti. The openness that they were able to have, and the fellowship that they share with each other - supporting and understanding, is a beautiful gift. Together they are able to encourage and comfort one another an a deeper level, just as the Bible talks about - strengthening one another in the Lord and holding each other up. I have been blessed to witness this verse in the lives of these wonderful women, and as I reflect more on the ministries around me, I realize how 3 cords are also woven into other aspects of my life.

In my more recent mountain visits, I've been accompanied by another friend named Robenson. The first time I asked him to come along I was a little unsure about how willing he would be to come, however during our visit I was amazed at how enthused he was to get to know the family. He has always been available to walk along with me, and he has a real heart for the family. But the greatest part of all is that he really loves to teach. When he came along the first time, I expected him to sit at the back and check his watch from time to time until we left. I was all wrong. When I took out the teaching materials, Robenson got right into it. I barely got a word in edgewise as Robenson entertained the kids through the alphabet and counting activities.

It is the hope of many that these children will have the chance to get some more formal and consistent education in the upcoming school year, but in the meantime it is really encouraging for me to watch the kids grasp new concepts, and especially to witness 18-year old Robenson have such a heart for seeing these children break out of the cycle of illiteracy. Tangibly speaking, there is nothing in it for him, and yet he finds joy in hiking out into the wilderness and flipping through flashcards with children who have never had the chance to go to school. It's a beautiful picture of community, love and servanthood. It's a picture of 3 cords.

Recently some professional photographers were at the mission taking footage to integrate in some multimedia programs in the States. One of the photographers also happened to be a gifted worship leader back at his church, and my friend Jean Marc got to watch him in action.

As you can see from the picture, he was fully engrossed in learning the new songs and chords that his new friend had to offer, and once again gave me a picture of 3 cords. How a talented musician can come alongside a friend with a similar passion and invest in them is a picture of hope and faith that God can do much greater things than we ever could. Jean Marc still sings the songs that he learned in that jam session every time I see him.

I also feel blessed to testify a '3 cord' story as my life continues overflow with a community of beautiful people. Coming to Haiti 3 years ago, I was so worried about losing the friends I had back home. I didn't know how on earth the Lord could provide for me even close to how He had provided in my small town of Wainfleet. And yet, I sit here today amazed at the way He has unceasingly provided a wonderful group of people right where I am. Friends and I here have commented before as we are mashing avocados for guacamole, or riding in the back of a pickup, or sipping Cocacola on the balcony after a hot day, how amazed we are at the people we get to do life together here in Haiti. It's more than we ever dreamed! Both near and far, I feel blessed to have people pouring into me, praying for me, and lifting me back up when I stumble. I thank the Lord for the 'cords' around me that keep me going and help me hold a little tighter onto Him.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

What are little boys made of? Well, I'm learning.

On Monday we taste tested sardines and oysters, where Noah and Caleb practically licked the metal trays clean.
On Tuesday they non-chalantly disposed of the tarantula in our classroom. Twice. Upon Caleb's discovery, Noah simply chugged his cup of water and used it as a trap. Considering the production it took Leeann, Teagan and I last spring, I was in utter shock and relief. They are the ones I will be calling the next time I need a disposal squad for the unwelcome critters I have in my apartment.
After Wednesday's recess break, I rang the bell around the corner of our schoolhouse towards the field where the boys were hiking with tree root walking sticks. In the rain.
Yesterday they made one-wheel racing contraptions from a pencil wrapped up in a spool.
A few times a week, they knock on my door with oversized beetles or snakes in tow... Their suggestions for new science projects.
The poetry that we've written so far as a part of our writing unit revolves around the outdoors. Sharks, mice, frogs, climbing trees, and torrential downpours to name a few.
It never fails, at least once throughout the morning their eyes grow wide as large winged insects fly around the walls of our classroom or a lizard scampers between their desks. Through their gaze I can see that it's all they can do to stay in their seats and not attempt to capture it.

If this is how the first week is going to go, it's sure to be an eventful year!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A beautiful mesh.

The clear rippling water transforms into a deep navy blanket as the sun sets on the horizon. The surface glitters a reflection of a million bright crystals. The waves reach the pebbled shore with a soothing melody.
In my mind I can smell the campfire frying fresh pickerel. I can hear the chatter and laughter of friends and family around the circle of picnic chairs. I can see the line of cars parked along the side of Mohawk Pt. Road.
This waterfront view I am witnessing is the same one I saw summer after summer growing up at my family's cottage, and yet as I look at the surroundings I am in today, it's so very different. To my left there is a field of plantain trees. Just beyond the trees I can hear a man showering under a hose singing a song in Creole (loudly - gotta love it). To my right there is a cement breakwall, which the gardener uses as a support beam for shelter with his tent. On the sides of the horizon, mountainous landforms are faintly visible over the saltwater mist.
Looking back at the sunset over the water, if I let myself, I am sitting around that campfire in the Northern town where I grew up, but in the same moment I am breathing in a reality of life on a Caribbean island.

It's amazing how my memories of life in Canada have overlapped to where I am today in Haiti. The sights and sounds engrained in my mind from childhood and teenage years often show up in the most surprising places in Haiti. Today I need to share how the Lord has surprised me in my day to day life, and the beautiful way my Canadian upbringing meshes into my life in Haiti today. Here's how:

A song.
Saviour, He can move the mountains, my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save.
I had to catch myself for a minute this morning in church... Listening to the crowds of Haitian people, arms outstretched high, singing to the same melody I heard years ago, except in a different language.
I remember the first time I heard that song. Riding down the highway in the back of my friend's Grand Am GT. I remember the weeks following that first listen - reading the lyrics on the song sheet before Tuesday Night Live worship practice, and trying to move my fingers properly on the guitar strings to play it in my bedroom. Today, I was standing with a totally different kind of congregation and sing that same song again. What a wonderful sound it was.

A bright yellow Roxy polo.
I chose it as my one new shirt for starting grade 10 - mostly because of the blue embroidered symbol next to the buttons. 'Roxy' was known at my high school as one of the popular clothing brands, and my parents agreed to buy it for me as my back to school shirt. It was by far my favourite item of clothing for many months. But of course, we know that time passes and styles change, and it slowly but surely it made it's way farther and father back in the closet. In my trips to Haiti, my mom has found her way far back in the shelves of my wardrobe and sent bags of Broc and I's clothes for me to give away. The Roxy shirt was one of them. I found it in one of the bags and smiled to myself. This shirt deserved to go to someone special.
Now I see it at church being worn by Senson, the 8-year old boy who lives with his family in the mountains. He knows nothing about the over-priced tag that once hung from the hanger nor about the significance of that shirt in the hallways of my high school, but he wears it proudly just the same. The shirt may have been designed for girls, and it may be faded from dust and sunlight, but I think it looks better on him than it ever did on me.

A velvet couch.
I have mentioned this couch in previous posts. This is because it's earned a good reputation. It was purchased my my newlywed parents over 25 years ago. It's the couch that I would sprawl out on during the sick days of my school years while watching 'The Price is Right'. It's the couch that Broc and I would argue on about crossing the invisible line we created which allowed us to have our own space. It's the couch I would sit on while waiting for the school bus to come in the morning. It's the couch that my family members congregated on to watch the Survivor finale. It's the couch that my friends and I would whisper and giggle on into the early hours of the morning.
3 years ago, my parents helped me truck it to the van der Marks garage where it was then loaded onto a container and shipped to the landing port in Haiti. It was the first piece of furniture to enter my empty apartment. Now, it's the centerpiece to my living room. Indeed, the crushed red velvet cushions may not be ideal for a Caribbean island... The thick material and colour tends to absorb more heat than anything, however it still manages to attract a large amount of people who come to rest their feet. It's been the landing mark for many after a hot day, and the viewing platform for a variety of great movies and shows after dark. The velvet couch holds more memories than I can recount, and it's still going strong.

I could go on.
I think if I was more deliberate about it, I could write about another reminiscent I find at least once a week. I guess it goes to show that no matter where I am, a part of where I've been will always stay with me. These familiar pieces in the back of my mind pop up time and time again and I pause in wonder at how my life has unraveled and how the same strands stay woven into who I am. It makes me think about how these memories will continue to appear in the years to come. How someday I may be in a different place, and the memories of glass Cocacola bottles or rain pouring on a tin roof will time-travel me back Haiti in my mind.
Most of all, these moments cause me to look back on the road I've journeyed. I stand in awe at the sequence of events that took me from small-town Wainfleet to a dot on the island of Haiti. It gives me hope to believe that whatever twists and turns await as I travel this path, the Lord is guiding me step by step. It's His provision that supplies me with faith to press on, and it's His faithfulness which remains when all else fails. It's His goodness that allows me to be reminded of the ways He has walked with me in the past, and it's His love that spurs me on to all this is to come, wherever I may go.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Class size cut and paste.

Any teacher who loses half of their class within 3 days would normally take it as an insult to their teaching. It is a pretty bad sign to have such a significant drop out rate in such a small span of time.
This week I went from a class of 4 to a class of 2, but I'm not embarrassed in the least... I actually couldn't be happier about it.
And this is why:

As many of you have been tracking, my two youngest students, Ana and Mina, have been awaiting their Canadian passports over the past year and looking forward to going to Canada to reunite with their family.
It feels like it has been a never-ending process and extremely painstaking journey for the vanderMark family. Haitian government offices do just about everything under the sun to prolong the paperwork from being finalized, and every time we have thought the girls were home free, another roadblock came out of nowhere. At last, on Tuesday evening Ana entered my apartment and with a bright wide smile announced that her and Mina were going to Canada. The passports and visas had been granted, and much to our delight, Laurens boarded a plane with Ana and Mina on Wednesday afternoon landing in Canada that night. What a reunion it must have been... I get choked up just thinking about it. All glory be to God for His faithfulness and joining this family together for good!

So now it's just me and my boys. Noah and Caleb Mazur are here with their parents John and Mary - John is heading up the 500 homes project for families who have lost shelters through the devastation of the 2008 hurricanes and last winter's earthquake. I am excited to get to know them more personally over the next month and a half before the vanderMarks return as a family and my class size triples. Ana and Mina will return to school bringing their 2 older brothers, Grayden and Bridgely who I have taught since moving to Haiti. It's going to be a great year!
In the meantime though, I do have some extra time on my hands. As I presented in my report this past summer, I am excited about some of the new ministries that are beginning, and getting involved as I can. After my morning school sessions, I am plugging into a few different areas which will carry me through until the vanderMarks return at the end of October, and we'll see where that takes me.

First off, I am loving visiting the families in the mountains who I have gotten to know better since meeting them last winter. I have gotten creative and hitched rides with staff members to and from the mission here and there, and continue to make the independent trek when all else fails. I blogged a bit before about how I do some little school sessions with them and it's awesome to see how they catch on and even the parents participate. Please keep these families in your prayers in the coming weeks that they will have the chance to enroll at the School of Hope. There are so many children needing education after many school facilities toward Port-au-Prince are no longer functioning after the earthquake. This creates a huge influx of incoming students making it more difficult for the mountain kids to be accepted. Pray that they will have a chance to learn in the classrooms this year, even if it's through the afternoon school sessions that the Mission will be starting this fall. I will keep you posted!
The second thing that I am getting more and more excited about is the awesome business that is starting for amputee ladies who have received new legs from the prosthetics lab. Diana Cherry (the 'other' Diana at the mission), who works as the prosthetics coordinator at the mission has initiated a program for women to create fabric accessories to be sold to teams that come to Mission of Hope. The money that comes from selling the created products goes towards a consistent income for the women, as well as future investments in helping local families and earthquake victims get proper education and housing. It is a fantastic ministry, and the women are so excited to begin.
Yesterday I met with the Diana and a few of our interns, as well as the women, and we discussed their official employment with the Mission of Hope. It's such a thrill for me to be a part of this new development and join the women in their work on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Not only will we be making the cutest hair wraps and accessories, but I will have a chance to build relationships with the women and further my Creole vocabulary. What could be better!?

So there's a glimpse into my weekly schedule... Somewhere in the mix I also get the chance to hang out with a beautiful group of people on the staff side of the guesthouse. We have prided ourselves in mastering the art of making Haitian fruit juice, and spend our evenings in great conversation with some of the best background music on the planet.
The simple joys of serving and sharing as a community definitely outweigh any leaky ceiling, pesky mosquito bites, or sweltering hot living rooms.

Life is always better together. Thank you for sharing in the journey.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

On your mark...

Sweep classroom - check.
Sharpen pencils - check.
Wash chalkboards - check.
Plan first week activity schedule - check.
Sort textbooks - check.
Break down subject units - check.
Read novels for literacy study - check.
Hang posters - check.
Arrange desks and bookshelves - check.
Prepare memorization verses and devotions - check.
Organize classroom supplies - check.
Record class agreement - check.
Label journals and scrapbooks - check.
Hide scavenger hunt items - check.
Beach trip - check. (okay, so it's not really a 'mandatory' part of school prep, but I like to think of it as a 'professional development' tactic - clear the sweat out of my pores!)

All systems are go.
On your mark, get set... ring the school bell!

As we sang in church this morning...
Nou bay ou tout lwanj ak glwa, nou adore Senye, Ou merite tout louanj!
Translation - We give you all the glory, We worship you oh Lord, You are worthy to be praised!
I know that all that will be accomplished in the lives of my students and I this year is only because of the strength and grace of God. May He multiply our knowledge into love for Him, and may we give Him all the glory.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The little things.

Metal slats.
I never knew how significant they could be until yesterday morning.
Long story short, I've been sleeping on a box spring and mattress on the lower bunk since my arrival to Haiti a few weeks ago. Despite the funny appearance, it was working out fine for me, until Pierre graced us with his presence and my mattress became the centerpiece of our living room.
SIDENOTE: Pierre is doing really well! He has moved down to the Hope House and will continue to stay there in the days to come as more options for a permanent place are searched out. We are so thankful that his health is improving, but we're also sad is because he is no longer our houseguest and we MISS him! See why?

So shortly after the mommies came to retrieve him, I makeovered the apartment back to normal which included returning the mattress to our bunk bed. I decided that it was a good opportunity to remove the box spring since the mattress was off anyways, and so I proceeded to reef it off as best I could. This is when I discovered the harsh truth about our bunk: The lower bed frame only consisted of 2 metal slats. The side beams indicated places for about 8 slats spaced a few inches apart to fully support the mattress. At first, I didn't think it would be a big deal, but upon laying the mattress back on without the box spring support, the bed sagged in the center immediately on contact. Not good.
With no idea where to find the other metal slats, I searched out an alternative support system which involved using a side plank of our not-yet-assembled bookshelf to lie perpendicular to the 2 slats (improvisation to it's extreme). This is how I slept on Tuesday night. At first, it didn't seem to be much of an issue, especially compared to the 2 slats alone. The plank prevented the center part of the mattress to fold, however by the early hours of the morning, my body was getting tired of aligning myself with the center bookshelf beam as to not be gravity-pulled one way or the other.
Needless to say, I woke up the next morning knowing that I needed a better solution, and wishing Cheryl was here to give me an adjustment. By evening Sarah and I started on a hunt for the missing pieces to our bed. We began putting the word out and then made our way to the pink house where a lot of furniture is currently being stored, hopeful that the missing pieces to our bed would be there. We were in luck! When we flicked on the light, there were piles of mattresses and couches everywhere, but there in the center of it all lay... the missing slats. Cue heavenly music here.
So with lots of laughs (just picture 2 overtired girls in a hot apartment trying to move heavy equipment), we completed the task of assembling our bed. The missing pieces had made their way back, and I slept like a baby last night!
Sometimes in Haiti it's all about the little things.

And speaking of the little things, today I took a mountain walk. It was like any other mountain walk, except this time I did it without accompaniment. My fellow mountain walker, Sadrac, is now in the Dominican Republic attending university and living with his sister who is also studying there to become a doctor. It took me a while to bite the bullet and make the trek alone. It just feels so bizarre, and yet I knew most of my hesitation and worries were silly compared to the joy that comes from visiting my dear friends. This morning I tumbled through the farm fields in my flimsy sandals (next time I'll be sure to wear runners), and as I came into view of the tents ahead, the children ran to greet me. They take the cake for the best greeting committee ever.
I spent my visit going through a few of the basics of counting and alphabet letters with the children. This small amount of learning time that we did is a little thing too, but I believe that piece by piece a foundation will be built and that the Lord would enable and equip these children to achieve great things in their lives. Great things that can only be accredited to His love and grace.

Little things.
Whether we recognize them or not, I think they have the potential to affect us for better or for worse. I remember many years ago reading a book about how to not sweat the 'small stuff'. I easily let speed bumps affect my attitude and outlook. Often one set back can define my day and ruin my joy. Just as the little pick ups brighten the dark spots, seemingly insignificant hiccups can throw me for a loop and my perspective is lost with the wind.
It's my prayer through the reminder of promises in His word and witnesses of His grace in those that I get to do life with, that I would be more fixed on the little pieces of joy that the Lord places in my life each day. That His presence would train me to be constant in the ups and downs of life. That His love that pours out in the most unexpected places will renew my hope. May we have the eyes to see the Light beyond the clouds and be a vessel to shine it onto others.